Universal Press Syndicate
Every year as spring approaches, shelters and rescue groups face a daunting challenge: Find homes for the cats before the kittens arrive.
That's because once kitten season starts, even the sweetest, handsomest and most well-mannered cats may run out of time before anyone recognizes them for the wonderful companions they are and adopt them.
The sole reason: Cats just aren't as cute and playful as kittens. Being overlooked at the shelter is bad news for the cats, of course, but it's also unfortunate for many people who don't realize that an adult cat may, in many cases, be a better choice than a kitten. Sure, kittens are cute, but they also can be a bit of a trial as they grow up. They need extra time, extra training and extra tolerance for all those crazy things that kittens do.
An adult cat can slide quickly into your life. You know pretty well what you're getting with a grown cat -- activity level, sociability, health, etc. Given time in a loving environment, a grown cat forms just as tight a bond with his new people as any kitten can.
With an adult cat, knowing a little of the animal's background is important, especially if your family has other pets or children. (A cat who has never experienced them may have a more difficult time adjusting to a new family that includes either or both.) You can ask questions directly about the cat's background if you're adopting from the original owner. And most shelters or rescue groups also try to provide some basic background information, which they ask of the people giving up their pets.
What if the information isn't flattering to the cat? For example, what if he became available for adoption because of his failure to use a litter box? Give the cat the benefit of the doubt, if you have the time and patience to work on solving the problem. And remember, too, that you don't know the contributing factors. Maybe the litter box was never cleaned or was left in a spot that was convenient for the owner but disconcerting for the cat.
If at all possible, take each adult cat you're considering away from the caging area of the adoption center. Sit down with the animal in your lap, alone in a quiet place, and try to get a feel for the cat as an individual. Shelters are stressful places, so the cat may need a few quiet minutes to collect herself. A calm, confident and outgoing cat will respond pretty readily to your attention, relaxing in your lap, pushing for strokes and purring.
No matter how promising the initial meeting, remember that cats don't react well to change, so be prepared to give your new pet time to adjust to new surroundings once you take her home. Experts advise starting out your cat in a small, enclosed area -- a spare bathroom or small bedroom equipped with food and water, litter box, toys and a scratching post. A few days of quiet seclusion with frequent visits from you will relax your new pet and re-establish good litter-box habits.
If you're considering bringing a pet into your life, please don't wait for kitten season -- take the plunge now. This is the time of year when adult cats in shelters get to shine a little extra, and there are enough of them around to give you a chance to bring home a pet you'll adore for years to come.
Adult rabbits beg for homes, too
Adult cats aren't the only shelter pets facing some spring deadlines -- adult rabbits are under pressure, too. That's because spring means Easter, a time when baby rabbits show up in pet stores, advertised as the perfect holiday gift for children. By summer, many of these darling babies will end up in the shelter when their novelty wanes, adding to the overcrowding.
Rabbits are underappreciated as pets, relegated to the "kids' pet" category, often spending their lives ignored in outdoor hutches. But rabbits can be playful, affectionate and lively indoor companions for adults and older children. Most of these pets can even use a litter box with a good degree of reliability. -- Gina Spadafori
No strings attached -- to cats
Q: Something was wrong with our cat, but we couldn't figure out what. She wasn't herself -- she was listless and uninterested in eating. We took her to the vet. Long story short, she had swallowed a piece of ribbon, and it messed up her intestines. She had to have surgery, but she's fine now.
We had no idea this could happen. Would you tell others that cats who like to play with ribbon, yarn and string need to be watched carefully? -- B.W., via e-mail
A: What would you call a kitten with a ball of yarn? A perfect time to reach for your camera? How about an accident waiting to happen? For too many cats, it's an accident -- and maybe a surgery -- waiting to happen, as you've found out. And you're right that people just aren't aware of the danger.
Kittens and cats love playing with yarn, as well as string, ribbon and anything that twists and dances. They like to stalk, to pounce, to flip their slender prey in the air, and to start stalking again. That's all good clean fun, but there's always a chance that your cat won't stop with play and will decide to eat his plaything. And that's where the fun stops, because any sort of yarn, ribbon, Christmas tinsel or string can cause havoc in your cat's intestines, causing a problem that may need to be surgically treated.
If you knit or sew, put your supplies securely away after you're done with them, and if you're opening or wrapping packages, clean up after you're done. Packing material such as foam peanuts can be a health hazard for your pet, too.
Chewing on electrical cords is more of a risk for inquisitive kittens, but protecting your grown-up cat against them wouldn't hurt either. Tuck all cords out of the way. And if you notice some you can't hide and that are attracting kitty teeth, coat them in something nasty, such as Bitter Apple (available at pet-supply stores), to convince your cat or kitten to chomp elsewhere.
Even if your pet's not really the playful type, she may find one kind of string irresistible: juice-soaked string from a roast or turkey. Dispose of these tempting dangers carefully, putting them in a container your cat can't get into.
For the cat who loves to chase things, get a "cat fishing pole" and play with your cat. It's good bonding for you both, and good exercise for your cat. When you're done playing, though, put the toy where your cat can't get it. -- Dr. Marty Becker
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting PetConnection.com.
Check with vet before pilling pet
Here's an easy rule to remember: Never give your pet any over-the-counter medication without clearing it with your veterinarian first.
That's a good rule to remember in general, but in particular, it applies to painkillers. Although you can safely give aspirin to arthritic dogs, the smaller size and different metabolism of cats make aspirin a dangerous proposition for them. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, can kill your cat, as can some of the newer, longer-lasting painkillers available in nonprescription form for human use.
If your pet is in pain, call your veterinarian immediately. Cats in particular are very stoic, and if you're noticing your pet's discomfort, he's really suffering and needs immediate care. As for chronic pain, your veterinarian can prescribe something that's effective and pet-safe. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Tuffie's toys take a lickin'
Manufacturers send me all kinds of pet toys, and not many of them stand up to the animals in my household. The kitten shows no interest in some "interactive" cat toys, and the dogs quickly dispatch the most "indestructible" of dog toys. Dog toys that can be used for tug-of-war games seem particularly short-lived, since my two youngest retrievers love to pull toys apart between them.
We've had a couple of different Tuffie's pet toys -- rings and a sea creature -- in the home since February. The dogs love carrying them around, chewing on them and trying to pull them apart. So far, the toys have passed all the tests. A couple of them are just a little frayed around the edges, but the integrity of the toy itself is not at all in question.
The manufacturer says Tuffie's toys are constructed with multiple layers of hefty and durable luggage-grade material and seven rows of stitching. They're fine for retrieving in water and will also stand up to the washing machine (but should be air-dried). What's more: The company says it tested these toys with a tiger (and you thought your dog was tough on toys!).
Tuffie's are available from most pet-supply retailers and catalogs. Prices vary by size, starting at suggested retail of $8 for small-dog toys and $15 for the toughest big-dog toys. For more information, visit www.MyDogToy.com. -- Gina Spadafori
Beware the little weed that can kill
One of the biggest health threats to dogs in the Western states is a common weed known as the foxtail.
Its seed heads, or awns, are sharp at one end and covered in tiny barbs that can move easily in one direction but not the other. The pointy awns get tangled in dogs' coats and then work their way into the skin -- but can't work their way out. They also lodge in the ears, between the nail and the toe, in the eyes, in the nasal passages or in any bodily opening.
Once lodged in the body, they cause infections that can be life-threatening, especially if they enter the lungs or the brain. Most commonly, they cause areas of swelling in the foot or leg. Dogs who go into fields, vacant lots or pastures are at greatest risk.
While many states have weeds that go by the name "foxtail," the one responsible for most of the problems is found only in arid Western states. The foxtail originated in Europe and is also known as "wild barley" (Hordeum murinum). It thrives in areas where the native groundcover has been disturbed, and tends not to do well in cultivated landscapes such as irrigated lawns.
The foxtail is soft and mostly harmless in the winter and early spring. After that, however, it dries and becomes dangerous, and remains dangerous until the autumn.
No matter where you live, if your dog is pawing at his face, sneezing constantly, licking his paw, or has an unexplained lump or swelling anywhere on his body, seek immediate veterinary care. Foxtails can lodge in any bodily opening and can migrate anywhere in the body. So if your dog goes into grassy areas, particularly if you live in the West, be sure to ask your vet if a health problem might be caused by this plant. -- Christie Keith
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Reasons for seeing the vet
According to the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., the top 10 reasons why cats go to the veterinarian (based on insurance claims) are:
1. Urinary tract infections
2. Stomach upsets
3. Kidney failure
4. Skin allergies
6. Respiratory infections
7. Ear infections
8. Tooth extractions
PETS ON THE WEB
Cats can learn to love leashes
Leashes, collars and harnesses make fashion statements. And while your kitten is looking good, collars and harnesses provide safety, identification, exercise and control.
Introduce pet fashionables when your kitten is little and still young enough to be curious. Put the collar on when the kitten is eating or relaxed on your lap. Then take it off. When the kitten accepts the collar, leave it on longer. Try attaching a leash and letting the kitten drag it around the kitchen after a meal. Do the same with the harness. Keep each experience short and sweet. Choose bribery over force. Many cats learn to accept harnesses with leashes. Those lucky kittens get to walk outdoors and travel with their owners.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600